Page last updated at 15:13 GMT, Sunday, 20 April 2008 16:13 UK

Battle to 'save great British curry'

By Jon Kelly
BBC News

Protest organised by the Ethnic Catering Alliance
Protesters said the government would pay the price at the ballot box

Thousands of protesters in London's Trafalgar Square insisted they were on a mission - to save the great British curry.

There was noise, colour and a warm welcome to any curious onlookers who stopped by.

These protesters, more than most, appreciated the importance of getting the Front of House right.

They were here to complain about immigration rules which, they say, are harming the UK's ethnic restaurants.

And, via a direct appeal to the British love of tikka masala and chow mein, their message was straightforward.

"Stop politics," read the placards. "Save currynomics."

'Britain's culture'

One protester who has seen the status of ethnic dishes transformed from exotic oddities to a staple of the UK diet is Mohammed Ohid Uddi, 43, who came arrived from Bangladesh in 1976.

He now runs the Spicy World restaurant in London's Victoria, and insisted that it is the government's patriotic duty to support the curry industry.

Shofiqul Islam
Restaurants like mine make a huge contribution to the British economy
Shofiqul Islam

"Curry isn't Indian or Bangladeshi food anymore," he says. "It's British food now.

"It's part of Britain's culture, and we need everyone's support to preserve it."

The demonstrators - under the banner of the Ethnic Catering Alliance - say a new points-based system for non-EU immigrants has led to a severe shortage of kitchen staff.

Under the scheme, migrants can only work in the UK if they meet criteria including the ability to speak proficient English.

"It's crazy," said Salim Chowdhury Miah, a restaurateur and local councillor from Derby. "My chef can't speak any English, but he doesn't need to. He's there to make curry.

"Second and third generation immigrants don't want to work in kitchens, so the only staff who know the recipes come from overseas. But now we're being penalised."

Shofiqul Islam, 29, from Chester, agrees. Demand is booming, but he can only keep his restaurant going by drafting in his wife and brother to help out.

"The government say you should recruit European people or British people," he says.

"I've tried that. It didn't work. They don't want to do it.

"Restaurants like mine make a huge contribution to the British economy, and people want to come and eat in them. Why can't the government let us give them what they want?"

'Didn't listen'

Although most of the protesters had their roots in the subcontinent, other communities were represented too.

Protester Vanessa Fong
Vanessa Fong said she was struggling to recruit kitchen staff

Vanessa Fong, 44, runs a Chinese takeaway in Watford, Herts.

"It's very, very difficult for me to recruit kitchen staff," she said.

"Normally, I would get people in from China or Malaysia.

"But the rules make that very difficult, and people from this country don't want to do that kind of work."

And among the crowd were warnings for the government to take notice, or pay the price at the ballot box.

Abu Taher, 42, who runs the T and K Balti House in Leicester, said ministers should not take his community for granted.

"The ethnic minority vote has traditionally been with the Labour party, but if they don't take notice of our concerns then our votes will go elsewhere," he warned.

"They didn't listen over the Iraq war, and look what's happened to them. I hope they pay attention now."




SEE ALSO
Can curry chain stand the heat?
20 Apr 08 |  Business
Immigration points system begins
29 Feb 08 |  UK Politics

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